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Speeding up recovery from Joint Surgery

Speeding up recovery from Joint Surgery

by Chris Williams
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There are some unavoidable circumstances where we would need surgery on our joints due to injuries or chronic pain. In most cases after surgery, we may be referred to physical therapists to help speed up the recovery and get us back to our everyday activities. Correct rehabiliatation is important to make us recover faster than usual. Most joint injuries happen because of sporting activities, trauma, or the lifestyle we have chosen. As per the American Orthopedic Society, the frequency of joint surgeries have increase due to sports injuries. ACL reconstruction, a meniscus tear, and great 3 knee tears are some of the more common ones that require surgery.

These procedures take usually about 6 to 9 months of physical therapy before the patient can fully recover from the surgery. More often than not, recovering from surgery cannot be sped up to less than 6 months but recovery can be done in less than 9 months. After 9 months an ACL surgery can fully recover but there are psychological aspects which also contribute to overall recovery process. The fear of getting injuries again may continue to haunt us even after successful recovery and is something that is difficult to disregard. Especially for those who are into sports, there will always be that fear of re-injury when they get back to their usual activities.

Moreover, according to statistics it is more common for athletes to get a recurring injury after surgery. It may happen on the same ACL or on the other one. Having a good rehabilitation program in place and following the advice of your physical therapist can reduce these chances. Remember to not overdo your exercises and do not put too much stress on your body when exercising.

General Timeline For A Faster ACL Surgery Recovery

Phase 1 – 2 (Week 0-4)

This happens right after surgery and will be the first time that you will meet up with your physical therapist.  A summary of what to expect along with a list of milestones are provided as well as when you are going to be allowed to walk, run, jump and return to sports. Your therapist will slowly remove your compression sleeve and will attempt to make you walk slowly. Aside from restoring your walking mechanics, pain reduction and inflammation reduction are the priorities in these phases.

WHAT TO DO: Core training will be started. Riding a stationary bike is a good exercise to improve blood circulation around the knee which speeds up the recovery process and increase the range of motion of the joints. Balance training is also done to limbs to reacquaint them with their former activities. Other exercises include half-squats, partial lunges, and heel raises.

 Phase 3 (Week 4-6)

Here we continue to reduce the swelling and regain range of motion. This time we start building strength in the affected areas. Focus on neuromuscular training for all exercises done at this early stage. Proper kinematics with low level exercises progressing to higher level exercises gradually.

Exercises would include: climbing the stairs, single leg raises, single leg squats, core stabilization, aerobic exercises, and maintaining the stationary bike.

Phase 4 (Week 6-10)

Strengthening the muscles around the knee by adding weight training and proprioception to the regular routines and continuing with the progress of reducing the swelling as well as regaining full knee extension and flexibility.

WHAT TO DO: Start with lateral stepping up and down exercises. Increasing the resistance of the bands as you progress through the weeks.

Phase 5 (Week 10-12)

This week is the preparation for running, it focuses on continued reduction of the swelling and increase in leg strength. You will have to work on the ability of your limbs to support about 2.6 times of your body weight. Maintaining stability of the reconstructed knee to prevent adduction which may cause re-injury. Continue with previous exercises but increase proprioceptive training with isolated exercises with the injured knee as well as full body exercises.

Phase 6 (Week 12-16)

By this time you should be able to have a full range of motion within the 12-16 weeks of therapy. Continue with the exercises gradually increasing intensity to condition yourself for biking, running or coming back to your favorite sport.

Full Recovery is Just Around the Corner

In about 4-6 months you should be able to strengthen your quadriceps and improve your stamina and endurance as well has have proper balance. Exercises that you can do these months include 2 mile jogs, biking outdoors, 100 plus step ups and step downs, shuttle runs and suicide drills. You can also start with your basketball shooting drills, tennis, and golf. Remember not to over strain your muscles as you may be at risk of reinjuring yourself.

In about 6-9 months you should be cleared by your PT and your surgeon. It’s time to get back to competing in the sport you love. A 100% recovery is not guaranteed but you should be back to at least 90% of your original form. Continue with all the exercises and once fully recovered continue with the strengthening program for at least another 3 weeks.

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